The ANC has betrayed the youth

South Africa - Durban- 31-03-19 - ANC supporters at the party's elections campaign in Clermont Picture Bongani Mbatha / African News Agency (ANA)

This Sunday will be the 43rd anniversary of the 1976 black student uprisings, which in many ways decisively impacted on liberation politics. While the ANC itself had virtually nothing to do with it, they benefitted most from the hundreds of militant youth who left the country in the wake of the brutal state crackdown that followed those uprisings. Most of those youth joined the ANC.

But given the powerful impact those events had on both the ANC what has been the fate of black youth since the ANC won the 1994 elections? To my mind the two most important supportive constituencies the ANC had in the turbulent 1970s and 1980s were the black youth and black workers in the trade unions. Most unfortunately both these major constituencies of the ANC suffered most from the neoliberal policy regime the ANC adopted after 1994.

We can see the negative effects of those policies in many areas of our society, but most notably in the very high unemployment rate among the black youth, the protracted problems in all spheres of education and the serious lack of infrastructure and social justice in the townships where by far most still reside. A walk through most black township in the country shows starkly the horrific extent of these problems.

But probably most revealing is the shocking state of basic infrastructure in many schools, such as pit toilets (which took the lives of a few black children), classrooms, furniture, basic utensils and transport for pupils. The plight of so many black students at our universities, regarding basic things like tuition fees, accommodation, meals and study materials is also widely evident. It is an indisputable fact that in these vitally important respects the ANC has repeatedly failed the black working-class youth in both these institutions and in townships.  

Any study of the reasons why the youth face these serious problems point to the effects of neoliberal policies, a related serious lack of funds, the incompetence of ANC members deployed to various sites of education and an increasing corruption within all levels of government. There is no doubt whatsoever that the South African Democratic Teachers Union, strongly linked to the ANC, has in many respects did the youth at schools a huge disservice. Incompetence, corruption and irresponsibility in its ranks have had a blistering effect on our schools and pupils.

It is for these and many other related reasons that the Economic Freedom Fights (EFF) has made huge strides in gaining electoral support among the alienated and demoralised black youth, evinced most by the results of the recent election. This despite the undeniable fact that it has serious weaknesses and failings, especially in terms of economic policy confusion (too much populist demagoguery), its recklessly populist stance on the land question and most disturbingly of all, its increasing racialist and even often outrightly racist utterances in relation to the basically fictitious and racialist notion of ’minorities’.

There is so much danger in the latter regard that the EFF leadership must be very careful, otherwise they run the risk of provoking openly racialist confrontations in public spaces. I often feel that this distinct danger is gathering pace in many settings. This country, given an immensely violent history, is deep down a tinder box which can easily explode.  

People from these “minorities” which the EFF leader, Julius Malema in particular, likes to attack in his speeches, are not going to always sit back and allow the EFF to attack and walk over them. In this regard I often feel he is both ignorant and naïve about the history of this country. I as often feel that he is playing with fire with these repeatedly outrageous, inappropriate and confused attacks on “minorities”, especially on Indians. He is urged to desist from this course.

It is naively the EFF’s convenient fetish of demography – ‘race’ population statistics, in which the ‘Africans’ are numerically the overwhelming majority – which they think allows them to provocatively say as they please about ‘minorities’. That is a very shortsighted and dangerous approach to the combustible and unresolved National Question in this country, especially when the EFF is based among a restless and deeply dissatisfied youth. It can also deflect attention from addressing the serious social issues facing them.

Malema must stop his poisonously divisive and often outrightly racist Africanist majoritarian chauvinism, which has nothing in common with the socialism the EFF professes.  

Ebrahim Harvey is a political writer and commentator.